Lazy Writing - A Scourge

Oct 06, 2023 by James D. McEwan, in General Blog

A while ago, I wrote a (now closed) blog that critiqued TV, film, and fitness. A strange mix. It was light-hearted, and well-received. I think it's time to bring back those tales from my oddball imagination.

Lazy Writing

There’s a chance this critique of media will come back and bite me. It’s a chance I’m willing to take. If my future honour is on the line for bringing this to your attention, then so be it. This is something you need to know. I’m going to open your eyes to the most terrible and unforgivable sin of film and literature. The insult that is ‘lazy writing.’

You can probably flick through my books and point out something you think is half-assed. An episode of action and plot that seems to run counter to the narrative, or against the recognised behaviours of my characters. It would be rude of me to disagree—you are the critic. In my defence, I can say that I try to minimise such derisory lapses. I’m not perfect, but neither am I complicit.

So, what is lazy writing? It’s an irony that you’ll only recognise it in media where the plot has drawn you in and you’ve bonded with certain characters. It’s a moment of abject disappointment when you’ll often shout at the TV screen, or apply a little too much aggressive pressure to the spine of a book. Worse if it’s a Kindle launched across the room. It’s the moment that tests your faith in entertainment. When all the clever things collapse and fall into the abyss of stupidity. It’s when the literary gods abandon the page, when the soul of the streaming series dies.

It’s this…

Let’s say we have a veteran cop. We’ll call him Anvil Storm. Yeah, that’ll do. Anvil Storm. You can picture him; a long and tough career has gouged deep lines into his once soft features. Chiselled to the point of resembling a brutalist sculpture, Anvil has piercing, cold eyes. In the 80s he smoked. In the 90s, he wasn’t sure if that was appropriate. He knows these days he can’t say ‘hooker’ and when he uses violence, it has to be justified. Damn—he really misses the 70s, but he’s finally moved on. Now he just broods as though every breath is a lie, and the air he exhales is a chore. Anvil has survived it all. An achievement he puts down to his sixth sense; nobody can get the drop on Anvil, and for seven seasons, and almost a century of episodes, you’re forced to agree. The man’s a god.

A black and white picture of a noir style detective

Anvil Storm. Maybe.

Except you’re about to find out, he’s not. We’re in Bleak City Police Dept, where the chief has just burst a blood vessel in her temple berating Anvil for his latest faux pas. Not that Anvil speaks French—that’s too soft. Regardless, how was Anvil to know the guy he just collared is the mayor’s drug-addicted college drop-out nephew? Our veteran cop doesn’t do politics, but the Chief, a new lady the boys call the Dragon, isn’t happy. To get out of the mess, she’s sending Anvil to the slums to get the head of the Mexican Fentanyl dealing gang. Side note—it doesn’t matter that most of the actors are from Florida and Texas, born and bred. Mexico’s just a good villain substitute for the ghettos in the 70s, the Russians in the 80s, and the corporate assholes in the 90s. Though I figure we’re coming back to them soon enough. Sorry, I digress.

Anvil drives out to the slums, and even though it’s high summer, it’s suddenly night time, and the rain is coming down in sheets that are hard for the prop guys to emulate. In one scene, you might notice the anodised metal bucket colliding with the windscreen. Listen closely and you’ll hear the ‘oops’ uttered by the underpaid special effects trainee. Then we switch to ‘on location’ and the rain’s stopped. The shadows draw across the ground, but the post-processing makes it appear as though it’s the dead of night. With shadows. It’s not the moon—it’s too cloudy. You have absolutely seen these things on popular TV shows.

Anvil hunkers his chin down into his raincoat and heads to the derelict apartment block. It’s convenient (not yet lazy) that the door is open. Unguarded. Then we’re reminded they’re Mexicans, and we all know Mexicans are very hospitable people. Of course they leave the door open. With his hand on his piece (that’s a gun), he steps into the dusty, graffitied hallway.

The camera angle isn’t intrusive, and we see our hardened and experienced cop move from room to room. We see the room before he does. We know it’s safe. He moves in, aware of every dark space, and he checks behind every door. A swivel from his snake-charmer 70s hips, and he points his gun wherever he wants to go. We’re with him on this journey, and we know nobody can get the drop on Anvil. But then something happens and you’ve seen this in far too many shows. The camera angle switches. It bloody switches.

Now we’re getting an over-the-shoulder view. It’s claustrophobic. Some flunky from art-school thinks that makes it tense. No. It makes it suspicious. This is the first hint that Anvil’s about to make some heinous out-of-character mistake. You’ve just watched him clear every preceding room with clinical precision. Hell, in one, he even kicked the door against the wall because the filmography and a change in music tempo made you think there was someone lurking behind it. There wasn’t. But you jumped, didn’t you? Silly you. How the hell do crime books sell?

Back on track. The camera is tight to Anvil’s ear. He’s facing into a new room, and there’s a chair in the middle. Illuminated by the rays of the moon (wasn’t it cloudy?), there’s nobody on it. But there is a tape player. It’s 2023 and there’s a tape-player. Go figure. Anybody with half a brain would hesitate. And Anvil does. What he doesn’t do, though, is check behind the door. And you scream at the TV. You flex the binding of the book. You can’t believe your eyes. Anvil Storm, the greatest living cop, walks into the room with the camera angle tight to his ear. You know it’s coming. You throw a cushion at the TV screen. Maybe at the dog if the TV is really expensive. It’s okay, it’s a just a sofa-pillow, and if the dog’s a boy, it’s date night. You can wash the cushion tomorrow.

But what about Anvil? Who cares? This is the epitome of ‘lazy writing.’ You hear a shuffle. A shuffle from behind the door that Anvil would clearly have checked. You know, what he’s done for the past seven seasons without fail. Something he’s said to every partner he’s ever had. His own words: A door isn’t just a gateway to a room, or a drug den. It’s a shield behind which the evil of the world lurks. Never trust a door. Anvil said that. Season two, episode four, ‘The Night the Canary Sang.’ The shuffle you hear is followed by a muffled thud, and the screen goes dark. Anvil Storm just got done over by lazy writing.

Lazy writing appears in all forms. In fantasy media, it manifests as magic. When a wand or an incantation can dispel belief. Or worse, when the heroes need it most, the mage is having an existential crisis and couldn’t wave a hand, let alone a silly bloody stick. In Science fiction, boffins bombard us with clever tech, but I’ve lost count of how many ‘ionised’ clouds that can disrupt sensors or teleporters.

It is necessary when creating fiction to contrive events and circumstance. That is how authors and writers work. But it is an unforgivable crime against the audience to forego every beloved trait of a character. It is an insult to inject a moment of nonsense just because the plot requires it. If the plot requires such formulaic stupidity, then the writers need to try harder. Don’t give them a pass at the expense of your intelligence.

So, next time you witness the appalling application of lazy writing, I ask you to turn off the TV, or close that book. When a writer creates a world, they create new life, albeit an imaginary one. I’m pretty sure, though, in an alternate universe where those characters exist, they’d stare back at the page, or the screen, and gawp in disbelief. Don’t let them suffer.

Support imaginary characters and say, “hell, no” to lazy writing.